Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Parable of the Bad Shepherd, part 2

A shepherd had 99 sheep in his sheep fold. One day, a lamb came to the gate and said to the shepherd, "Your sheep fold is good and true and safe. I want to come in and be a part of your flock."

The shepherd said, "You cannot. Your parents are black sheep. I am denying you entrance to the fold for your protection. Besides, most lambs with black sheep for parents don't even want in the fold. If you must, you may walk around the outside perimeter of the fold. Someday I might consider letting you in, possibly."

The lamb sat outside the gate sorrowing. Then a wolf came. The sheep inside the fold were safe and protected. The little lamb left outside was devoured.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Spirit of Prophecy

A story in scripture that I really like occurs in Numbers 11. The Israelites were wandering in the desert, and they stopped to camp for a while. Moses took 70 people outside the camp and commissioned them to prophesy. Two people who were still in the camp (and thus who were not among the number commissioned by Moses) had the Spirit fall upon them, and they likewise began to prophesy.

Joshua approached Moses and told him what was happening, requesting that Moses tell the two people prophesying in the camp to stop. Moses responded, "Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!" (Numbers 11:29)

Elsewhere in scripture, we are taught that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10) What these two verses, taken together, mean is that all Christians should be prophets.

One major role of the prophets is to tell people about Jesus. So, in that vein, let me tell you about Jesus.

Jesus is loving and compassionate. He welcomes all to come to Him - every single member of the human family. He invited sinners (which we all are) to His table when the world rejected them

I echo the words of Nephi who said:
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.
2 Nephi 26:24-28
 Some people have tried to add asterisks to this warm welcome. But Jesus didn't qualify His invitation. He said, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28, emphasis added)

People who cast humble seekers away from the body of the saints are gravely mistaken. People who say that casting those seekers away is the will of Christ are taking the name of God in vain and must repent.

When we meet our maker, we won't be judged on whether we checked all the boxes on the checklist. We'll be judged on what kind of person we have become. Are we kind, loving, grace-filled people, or are we self-righteous people who follow policies at the expense of people?

The people Jesus will welcome into His kingdom are those who love Him enough to become like Him - kind, forgiving, merciful, willing to mourn with those who are mourning, willing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and afflicted. Let us be those people.

The Sin Next to Murder

It's commonly taught in the church that the "sin next to murder" is having sex outside marriage. This view comes from a misreading of Alma 39.

However, the sin next to murder isn't non-marital sex. The sin next to murder is using one's power and position to draw people away from God.

Alma speaks to his son Corianton beginning in chapter 39. He rebukes Corianton sharply, listing his wrongs. Alma's chief complaint against Corianton was that he forsook the ministry. While he was forsaking the ministry, he visited a prostitute, which is what most people latch onto, but from the text, Alma is much more worked up over Corianton setting a bad example and leading people away from the word of God by his behavior.

Alma goes on to say: "[T]herefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities; That ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly." (Alma 39:12-13, emphasis added)

The view that Alma sees leading people away from God as the sin next to murder is further strengthened in his counsel to his son Helaman in chapter 36. In this chapter, Alma recounts the story of his youthful activities with the sons of Mosiah as they went about trying to destroy the church. "Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments. Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror." (Alma 36:13-14, emphasis added)

The Book of Mormon was written as a warning for our day. What we're being warned against in this passage is setting a bad example, and by that bad example, drawing people away from Christ. Anyone who professes to preach the word of God but then by word or action draws people away, either explicitly by pushing them away and telling them they're unwelcome, or implicitly by setting a bad example of what a Christian should be, from the healing power of Christ and the ordinances of the gospel is committing spiritual murder and will have to answer before God for that one day.

However, all is not lost. Alma, while counseling Corianton, shows the way to right the wrong of drawing people away from Christ. "[R]eturn unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done." (Alma 39:13)